Sleep Health

Can Sleep Apnea Cause Weight Gain?

June 26, 2023
Christina Santisteban

Our health depends greatly on getting enough sleep. Numerous detrimental health effects, including excess body weight, have been related to both poor sleep quality and short sleep duration. One of the prominent issues that can result in restless sleep and has been linked to weight gain is sleep apnea. Unfortunately, gaining weight can worsen the effects of sleep apnea, creating a vicious cycle of stunted body functionalities.

In this article, we will be exploring the connection between sleep apnea and weight gain, while attempting to find an answer to, “Can sleep apnea cause weight gain?

What is Sleep Apnea?

Firstly, let’s break down what sleep apnea actually is. Sleep apnea, which is more than just harsh snoring, is a potentially dangerous disorder in which you briefly cease breathing or have shallow breath while sleeping. Sleep apnea can result in significant health issues like high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, heart attacks, and strokes. Diagnosis and treatment are crucial for your health because studies suggest that severe sleep apnea considerably raises the chances of sudden cardiac arrest.

There are three different types of sleep apnea which are: central, obstructive, and complicated sleep apnea.

  • Central sleep apnea (CSA) is when the brain fails to instruct your muscles to breathe; it is frequently linked to major illnesses or a pharmaceutical adverse effect

  • The most general type of sleep apnea is known as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which affects about 30 million Americans. In OSA, the airway is partially or completely blocked while you sleep, which can cause the symptoms you might know like snoring, choking, or gasping for air. This disrupts sleep and can result in daytime symptoms like headaches, weariness, and falling asleep easily while active, memory problems, and weight gain.

  • Obstructive and central sleep apnea symptoms are combined to form complex sleep apnea (CompSAS).

For the purpose of this article, we will mainly focus on obstructive sleep apnea and how it can cause weight gain; Since its commonality presents the highest abundance of information and treatments. Being biologically male, advanced in age, having a long neck circumference, smoking, and using alcohol or sedatives are risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea. Included in this list, having excessive body fat also seems to be one of the biggest risk factors for developing sleep apnea.

Understanding the Relationship Between Sleep Apnea and Gaining Weight

It is crucial to understand and explore the relationship between sleep apnea and weight gain as reciprocating issues to conclude how “can sleep apnea cause weight gain?

Studies have shown that gaining weight increases the likelihood of having sleep apnea, and it is believed that roughly 70% of people with sleep apnea tend to be obese (Isaac Almendros, 2020). Seeing a pattern yet?

According to certain research, there is an extreme weight gain phase right before receiving a diagnosis for sleep apnea. This is most likely because sleep apnea disrupts sleep, which results in exhaustion, an increase in appetite and cravings, and hormonal changes that are known to alter body weight.

Additionally, it seems that the exact cause of the association between excess weight and the onset of sleep apnea is still unknown, it is most likely a result of fat buildup in the neck narrowing the airway and raising the risk of obstruction when sleeping. Under these assumptions, sleep apnea can cause weight gain.

So, Can Sleep Apnea Cause Weight Gain?

It’s quite apparent that sleep apnea can cause weight gain, but does it also apply reversely? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding yes for a lot of people. You may find it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight if you don’t get enough oxygen while you sleep. Let’s find out some of the reasons why sleep apnea can cause weight gain:

Low Energy Levels

People who experience even one night of inadequate sleep may feel like “walking zombies” who cannot function during the day. Therefore, it is important to consider the effects on personal energy levels that months and even years of insomnia can have on a person.

When our energy levels are low - or remain low - we preserve what little energy we have by only doing things that are necessary such as eating and going to work, and avoiding things like going to the gym or spending time with friends. This can be compared to a phone’s Battery Saver mode. As a result, people could eat unhealthy foods out of convenience or spend more time stationary, which causes them to gain weight and potentially become obese (Levy P., 2012).

Slow Metabolism Processing

The rate at which your body consumes and turns that consumption into energy is referred to as your metabolism. When you’re tired, you might experience a less active lifestyle and burn fewer calories a day. This reduction in an active lifestyle over time may slow your metabolism, increasing your risk of gaining weight even when you don’t consume over a certain amount of extra calories (Levy P., 2012).

Hormonal Fluctuations and Cravings for Food

Poor sleep causes hormonal imbalances, which makes losing weight difficult. Your body will experience enough stress from getting poor sleep for hormone production to be disrupted. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces less Leptin - the hormone that tells your brain when you are full after eating. There is also Ghrelin which is the hormone that stimulates your “I’m hungry” urges.

Your hormones will therefore tell you to either eat more or you feel like you haven’t eaten enough and warn you to stop from lack of quality sleep. Another one of these side effects includes the urge to seek foods that give us that quick energy boost - those heavy in sugar and simple carbohydrates. This is how sleep apnea can cause weight gain. (Taheri S., et al., 2004).

Insulin Resistance

The chances of insulin resistance - a condition frequently linked to obesity and diabetes - is increased by the presence in sleep apnea. Insulin is a hormone that instructs our body to store fat and makes us feel more hungry and makes us want to eat more (Taheri S., et al., 2004).

Can Weight Loss Reduce OSA Symptoms?

Without receiving the appropriate treatment for both OSA and/or your obesity, a vicious cycle develops. As we have been exploring how sleep apnea can worsen due to weight increase, weight increase can worsen due to weight growth, which can lead to additional weight gain, and the effects move in a continuous cycle. Over time, it gets more difficult to stop the cycle if you are also juggling other health issues.

Luckily, this cycle is reversible. By losing weight, your chances of getting quality sleep increases, which becomes an effective therapeutic method for your OSA. Additionally, studies have shown that even a 10% weight loss might reduce OSA symptoms by 20% (Jehan S., et al., 2017).

Can Treating Sleep Apnea Help You Lose Weight?

Although there are several advantages to treating sleep apnea for many people, feeling rested and energized is the most obvious advantage. Patients frequently say that their treatment has been life altering and that they do not see themselves giving up their CPAP machine. On whether or not treating sleep apnea aids in weight loss, the study is still inconclusive.

However, studies have shown that people using CPAP therapy to treat their sleep apnea increased their level of physical activity after beginning treatment - by an amount that was significant for enhancing health (Nigel McArdle, 1988).

Ghrelin and leptin levels also dissipate after beginning treatment for sleep apnea. These hormonal adjustments may aid with appetite control, making it simpler for someone with sleep apnea to adhere to a nutritious, low-calorie diet. This, together with increased exercise, could undoubtedly aid in weight loss and help with sleep apnea.

Can CPAP Cause Weight Gain?

Through a number of pathophysiologic mechanisms, including the narrowing of the upper airway from neck fat deposition in the neck, decreased lung volume from abdominal fat, restrictive lung diseases from thoracic fat deposition, and instability of regular breathing caused by leptin resistance, obesity has been a prolonged associate for causes of obstructive sleep apnea.

Obesity and an increase in your body mass index (BMI), appear to increase the risk of obstructive sleep apnea for a variety of reasons, including changes in neurohormones. These have been shown to regulate safety and hunger, nutritional preferences, and a decline in exercise motivation and capacity for physical activity.

According to research, diagnosing and treating obstructive sleep apnea with continuous positive airway pressure systems would enhance physiologic parameters and make it easier for obese individuals who desire to lose weight to do so (Jehan S., et al., 2017).

Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Manage Sleep Apnea and Weight Gain

Let’s explore some of the healthy lifestyle choices that can help manage sleep apnea and weight gain:

Maintaining a Healthy Diet

The foundation of ideal health is a nutritious diet, which is also crucial for controlling weight gain and sleep apnea. Your overall health and the quality of your sleep might be impacted by the things you eat. As a result, it is critical to stay away from foods and beverages that promote weight gain and exacerbate sleep apnea symptoms (Jehan S., et al., 2017).

Exercising Regularly

Exercising on a regular basis is crucial for keeping exemplary health. It can assist you in maintaining a healthy and manageable weight, lessening the severity of the symptoms of sleep apnea, and enhancing the caliber of your sleep. The synthesis of your body’s endorphins increase when exercising, which can help uplift your mood and lessen your stress (Taheri S., et al., 2004).

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

To control sleep apnea and enhance the quality of your sleep, you could practice good sleep hygiene. This entails setting up a “sleep-friendly” environment, abstaining from stimulants, and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. Avoiding activities like watching TV or using electronic devices right before bed, will help you sleep better in the long-run (Youngstedt S.D., et al., 2016).

Limit Alcohol and Caffeine Intake

Caffeine and alcohol can reduce sleep efficiency and exacerbate sleep apnea symptoms that we are trying to prevent. Limiting your consumption of these chemicals is crucial, especially in the evening. Alcohol tends to relax the throat muscles, making it strenous to breathe when you’re sleeping. Contrarily, caffeine disrupts sleep by boosting the synthesis of the hormone cortisol, potentially enhancing your stressors and causing a negative impact on sleep (Mohammad Adam Ahmed Elnour, 2019).

Seek Medical Attention

Sometimes managing sleep apnea and weight gain may not be possible with only lifestyle changes. Therefore, if you are having chronic symptoms, it is crucial to seek medical attention. As mentioned earlier, CPAP equipment, medicine, or surgery can all be harmless, potential treatment options.


Sleep apnea is a common condition that can lead to weight gain and other health issues. Diagnosing and treating sleep apnea can become an essential step to reducing weight and improving overall health. Sleep apnea can cause weight gain and managing sleep apnea and weight gain requires a comprehensive approach that involves making and maintaining healthy lifestyle choices. If you suspect that you may have sleep apnea, it is important to see a healthcare provider for an evaluation. By taking these necessary steps, it shows initiative towards building a healthier body and a healthier well-being!

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